REVIEW: Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular (Hell-Handbag)

 

A Comic’s Comeback – Wishful Thinking on a Roll

 

 The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular- Production photo #8 by David as Joan

   
 Hell in a Handbag Productions presents
 
The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular
   
Written by David Cerda
Directed by
Cheryl Snodgrass
At
Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark (map)
through Nov 6  |  tickets: $10-$17  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Self-destruction, it seems, is the quickest way to create a comeback. In this case it’s as if a 747 pulls out of a talespin just about 100 feet before crashing into the runway. Author/producer David Cerda’s latest confection for his Hell in a Handbag zanies is the perfect vehicle for Ed Jones to do his wicked imitation of Paul Lynde, a basket case in free fall. Except that for legal reasons Jones’ on-the-skids comic who craves a second chance in show biz is now called Rip Nelson (R.I.P.—get it?) who’s hosting a 1970 live taping of a CBS variety show, a Halloween “spooktacular” that he desperately hopes will stop his slide into the bottle. When he gets in trouble, he Ed Jones as Rip Nelson in the The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular - Hell in a Handbag - Mary's Attic reverts to his tag line, “Wooga, wooga!,” a joke that becomes more pathetic as Rip tears himself up. But never fear—Rip is blindly hurtling toward happiness!

Unctuously neurotic (with classic Lynde-like dithering), Jones’ sad-sack Rip amounts to a one-man disaster area. Mired in a self-pity that morphs into toxic insecurity, he hits the bottle and insults his faithful dresser (Barbara Figgins channeling Thelma Ritter). We get, of course, a ton of bitchy byplay in the dressing room, catty wisecracks that feel as familiar as a funhouse mirror. Rip morosely calls his show a “celebrity cemetery where has-beens go to die.”

Somehow addled Rip manages to throw himself into this vaudevillian variety show where the guests interact like tornadoes spawned from a hurricane. These include, of course, Cerda’s patented parody of Joan Crawford who, with Rip, laments ungrateful Christine in the jaunty duet “Kids” from “Bye Bye Birdie.” By now Cerda’s Crawford has become the default drive for the celluloid monster in fetid flamboyance; she’s easily the scariest think in the Spooktacular. But Joan gets plenty of grotesque competition from Missy Aguilar’s strait-laced Kate Smith. This blowsy belter performs a clever duet with Red Genson’s geeky Bob Dylan that perfectly folds the latter’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” into the former’s “God Bless America.”

Imitations that sometimes can pass for impersonations, these usual suspects from the disco decade include Brigitte Ditmars’ hilariously peppy Ann Miller (who hoofs up a storm to “Spooky” complete with phony tap dancing), BC Kalz as an embarrassingly off-rhythm and tone deaf Brooke Shields ruining David Bowie’s “Scary Monsters,” and Michael Hampton’s no-nonsense Bea Arthur (who deadpans “Monster Mash” with an equally dour Dylan). Aaron Lawson adds spice as Donny Osmond, squeaky clean as he demurely declares himself “homosexual catnip”. (This is 40 years ago, mind you.)

Elizabeth Lesinski, as a chatty Charo, makes you realize what killed vaudeville as she launches into the conga-dancing finale “Hootchie Cootchie Halloween,” a deliberately daffy production number that features Rip as Carmen Miranda on steroids. Completing the encourage are Patricia Austin’s adequately brief cameo as Phyllis Diller, Andrew Swan as insolent Brady brat Susan Olsen, and Alex Grelle’s bittersweet Shelley Duvall, a riot as she becomes the butt of everybody’s insults because she’s ugly and offers absolutely no consolation for her father’s failure to appear.

The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular- Production photo #4 by David as Joan The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular- Production photo #6 by David as Joan
The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular- Production photo #10 by David as Joan The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular- Production photo #1 by David as Joan

When it turns out that Rip’s mad scene is the result of Quaaludes that he accidentally drank when he stole Donny Osmond’s glass of orange juice, the loser suddenly rallies and discovers he’s not washed up after all. That of course is just when he’s given a new chance, a CBS comedy with Don Knotts. (This is a show that really believes you can have your cake and eat it too—mock Rip and then care about his comeback.)

It all makes for an exhausting 60 minutes full of what will seem to younger audience members esoteric to arcane cultural references from two generations ago. Despite its brevity, Cheryl Snodgrass’ staging often feels jerky: The dressing room scenes repeatedly drop the energy. (It might be better to play this as a continuous TV show with appropriately stupid commercials inserted during the breaks.)

Kudos to Kalz’ self-caricaturing wigs and to Brian McKnight’s sound design which delivers the variety show’s essential laugh track. But it was all but drowned out by a tipsy Andersonville audience who offered their own clap-happy ovations: Their kindness to these “strangers” amounted to shining generosity. But then everybody loves a loser…

   
   
Rating: ★★
   
   

The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular-Production photo #2 by David as Joan

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REVIEW: Lady X (Hell in a Handbag Productions)

This ‘Lady’ is the cat’s meow!

 

Lady X Production photo #7 by David as Joan

 
Hell in a Handbag Productions presents
 
Lady X
 
Written by David Cerda
Directed by
Derek Czaplewski
at
Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark (map)
through June 19th  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

reviewed by Katy Walsh 

‘These are laugh lines.’ ‘Must have been one hell of a joke!’ Hell in a Handbag Productions presents Lady X, a world premiere spoof on melodrama films from the 1930’s and 40’s. It’s like this, sister! Lady X Publicity Photo #1 by David as JoanA bunch of dames are hoofers looking for a pushover to be the darb for a swill of gin or a night of whoopee. The new big cheese  is a woman. And she is one tough broad sizing up their gams to turn the joint into the cat’s meow. But see, this hard boiled doll ain’t on the level and is giving everybody the heebie-jeebies. A stoolie gets bumped off. A tough cookie pinched. A flim-flam floozy takes it on the kisser. Horsefeathers! Lady X celebrates the zinger genre with a campy salute to Bette Davis’ lines.

After three years of comical reruns, David Cerda puts out an original Hell in a Handbag production. Cerda is the triple threat as producer, co-author and star in Lady X. Along with director Derek Czaplewski, Cheryl Snodgrass and Adrienne Smith, Cerda has brilliantly concocted a hilarious parody on Bette Davis’ movie, “Marked Woman.” The dialogue is a riotous string of zingers. Under Czaplewski’s influence, the banter is rapid-fire deadpan brilliance. Leading the impudent charge, Annie Gloyn (Mary Dwight) is dramedy heightened. Cerda says, ‘You’re a smart girl. What’s the capital of Montana?’ Gloyn responds with, ‘It’s Helena and the state bird is Western Meadowlark.’ Gloyn escalates the dramatic cadence to explode the comedic potential. Elizabeth Lesinski (Emmy Lou Higgins) is hysterical as the dim-witted dame in the gaggle of gals. Libby Lane (Gabby Marvin) is a snorting Judy Garland incarnate. Every time Handbag’s Ed Jones (Estelle Porter) steps on stage in a dress the laugh track goes off in my head. This time in a peach flowing ball gown and munching on nachos, Jones defines funny. As always, Cerda (Scarlet Fontanelli) is delicious as a diabolical ‘bitch in heels.’

Lady X 109 by David as Joan Lady X Production Photo #9 by David as Joan Lady X Production photo #3 by David as Joan
Lady X production photo #6 by David as Joan Lady X Production photo #8 by David as Joan

‘Clothes are the sugar that make the flies come down.’ Costume designer John Nasca has put together some sweet numbers. The task can’t be easy for Nasca with Jones and Cerda hitting the 6 foot mark. Nasca is up to the task and adorns the women AND men in dresses that would be the envy of Today’s hooker. The wigs (Robert Hilliard) top off the 40’s look with platinum blonde oomph. Lady X is a flashback to the days of elegantly dressed whores with coiffed hair. A time in movie history where the leading lady was brazen with one liners. ‘If I thought this was going to be a trip down memory lane, I’d brought my scrapbook.’ Hell in a Handbag Production takes the nostalgia, adds the humor, shakes it like a bad girl and serves it up like an Atlantic Hot Pocket. Be warned: laugh lines are a side affect! Applesauce!

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
 

Running Time: 105 minutes includes a fifteen minute intermission


Lady X Cast/Characters

Libby Lane (Gabby Marvin), Ed Jones (Estelle Porter), Elizabeth Lesinski (Emmy Lou Higgins), Annie Gloyn (Mary Dwight), Chad (Val, Surprise Witness, Casey), David Cerda (Scarlett Fontanelli), Michael Hampton (Ape), Michael S. Miller (Ralph Crawford, Radio Announcer)Joanna P. Lind (Betty Dwight), Megan Keach (Frank Graham), David Besky (Sheldon, Crandall, Louis, Man #1, Judge)

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“Poseiden” extends again – now closing Sept. 27th

Photo by Rick Aguilar- Must give photo credit for publication

 

Hell in a Handbag Productions presents:

POSEIDON! An Upside Down Musical

Book & Lyrics by David Cerda
w/add’l material by Cheryl Snodgrass
Music by David Cerda & Scott Lamberty
Directed by Matthew Gunnels
Where: The Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division Street
Runs: Extended through Sept. 27th  (Buy Tickets)

From Hell in a Handbag’s press release:

At a time when grants have seemingly disappeared and donations are diminishing, and major Chicago theater companies our sending our emergency requests for cash, Hell in a Handbag Productions, through sheer force of will, has produced a Jeff recommended, critically acclaimed, musical comedy with a cast of 23 and a capsizing ship on a budget that many those same theaters use for costumes alone, and the Chicago theater going public has responded favorably with their support. "We were fortunate enough to surround ourselves with a cast and crew that really believed in the show", says David Cerda, Artistic Director of the company. "We took a ‘if we build it, they will come’ approach and thank God, it seems to be working".

All photos by Rick Aguilar

POSEIDON! An Upside Down Musical

is both a musical parody and a loving homage to the classic 1972 film, The Poseidon Adventure, the grandmother of all disaster films. The play celebrates and lampoons the beloved cult classic through comedy and music. When a tidal wave capsizes the SS Poseidon luxury liner on New Year’s Eve, a group of scrappy passengers must climb to the bottom of the ship (now above them) before the ship sinks. The perilous journey of these colorful characters, both humorous and tragic, makes for an edge-of-your-seat adventure. Watch the story unfold with a party of hardcore Poseidon Adventure fans who provide personal commentary and touching insight on how film resonates in our collective conscious, resulting in very real shared experiences.